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UAE strongman Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed named new president

President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Defence Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Ruler of Sharjah Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi attend a Federal Supreme Council meeting at Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 14, 2022. United Arab Emirates Ministry of Presidential Affairs/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The United Arab Emirates' de facto leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan was elected president of the Gulf Arab state by a federal supreme council on Saturday, solidifying his rule over the OPEC oil producer and key regional player.

He becomes president at a time when the UAE's long-standing ties with the United States have been strained over perceived U.S. disengagement from its Gulf allies' security concerns and as Western countries seek support from the region to help isolate Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

The council, which groups the rulers of the seven emirates of the UAE federation, elected Sheikh Mohammed, known as MbZ, a day after the death of his half-brother, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who was also ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan receives mourners after the death of President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Al Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 14, 2022. United Arab Emirates Ministry of Presidential Affairs/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

"We congratulate him and pledge allegiance to him as do our people," said Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also UAE vice-president and premier.

MbZ, 61, has wielded power behind the scenes for years and led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel.

The UAE, a trade and tourism hub, has also deepened ties with Russia and China at a time when Washington's political capital with Abu Dhabi and Riyadh has been eroded by differences over the Yemen war, Iran and U.S. conditions on arms sales.

President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Fujairah Sheikh Hamad bin Mohamed Al Sharqi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice-President, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Defence Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Ajman Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi and Ruler of Umm Al Quwain Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mu'alla, stand for a photograph after a Federal Supreme Council meeting at Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 14, 2022. United Arab Emirates Ministry of Presidential Affairs/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

"Mohammed bin Zayed has set not only the future course for the UAE but for much of the Gulf in his approach to state building and power projection," said Kristin Diwan, senior resident scholar at Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

"The future direction under him is set and is mirrored in other Gulf leaders adopting state-led and globally-oriented economic diversification."

'EXTRAORDINARY FOUNDATION'

Ruler of Fujairah Sheikh Hamad bin Mohamed Al Sharqi, Ruler of Ajman Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Defence Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Sharjah Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, and Ruler of Umm Al Quwain Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mu'alla, offer condolences to Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, after the death of President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at Al Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 14, 2022. United Arab Emirates Ministry of Presidential Affairs/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The Biden administration has moved to mend ties with oil heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Both have refused to take sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and rebuffed Western calls to pump more oil to help tame crude prices.

President Joe Biden said in a statement on Saturday that he looked forward to working with Sheikh Mohammed "to build from this extraordinary foundation to further strengthen the bonds between our countries and peoples."

Vice President Kamala Harris will head a U.S. delegation to the UAE on Monday to offer condolences following Khalifa's death and will meet with MbZ, press secretary Kirsten Allen said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Israeli President Isaac Herzog are due to arrive on Sunday. [S8N2S7032]

MbZ as president would not lead the UAE to break with the United States or other Western partners though he will diversify the country's international partners, Emirati political scientist Abulkhaleq Abdulla told Reuters.

MbZ has shifted away from a hawkish foreign policy and military adventurism, that saw the UAE wade into conflicts from Yemen to Libya, to focus on economic priorities. This has seen the UAE engage with foes Iran and Turkey after years of animosity, as well as Syria's president.

"MbZ will need to take further steps to cement the UAE’s position as the region’s leading financial, logistics, and trading hub," James Swanston of Capital Economics said in a note, referring to a push by Gulf states to diversify economies amid a global energy transition away from hydrocarbons.

(Reporting by Enas Alashray, Lisa Barrington, Saeed Azhar, Alexander Cornwell, Steve Holland and Ari Rabinovitch; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Christina Fincher)

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Dive Deeper:
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Elected UAE President
The United Arab Emirates' federal supreme council elected on Saturday Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as…
UAE's Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan named new president
It was not clear if President Joe Biden would be among world leaders heading to Abu Dhabi to offer condolences…
Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is named the UAE's new president
The ascension of Sheikh Mohammed, 61, had been expected after the death Friday of his half-brother and the UAE's president,…
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan becomes UAE's president
Rulers in the United Arab Emirates have announced that they unanimously appointed Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed becomes UAE president after brother's death
Abu Dhabi (AFP) - The UAE's long-time de facto ruler Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was named as president…
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan elected UAE president
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was elected by the Federal Supreme Council, the state-run WAM news agency says.
Get all your news in one place